Tom Grant, an extraordinary pianist, vocalist, composer, and world renowned jazz musician, was born on February 22, 1946, in Portland, Oregon, to a musical family. His father was a tap dancer who made his musical debut in vaudeville and in Hollywood in the chorus line of Busby Berkeley movies. Tom’s older brother Mike (who went on to found the international Hare Krishna movement) was also a musician – an avant-garde jazz pianist — and he introduced Tom to the many different facets of jazz.
Later, Tom’s father opened Madrona Records in Portland and, as a mecca for jazz and rhythm and blues fans, the store became the backdrop of Tom’s childhood. Lines of records served as his personal music library, and it was here that Tom learned about various musical styles.
Tom was particularly captivated by the music of pianist Erroll Garner. As a result, he began learning the piano and drums at age four. But instead of learning to read sheet music, Tom learned to play by ear. While his father taught him the basics, Tom admits that his piano skills are largely self taught.
“The key was that I liked it – the playing, the sound,” Tom said. “When I started taking lessons, I liked it a bit less, but I stayed with it because I loved the piano.”
After graduating from the University of Oregon, he spent some time working as a substitute teacher, and playing late night jazz gigs where he would “jam” to loyal fans, often until 2 AM. But soon, waking up for 6 AM phone calls to check for substitute teaching jobs became less and less palatable, and this motivated Tom to consider focusing on music full time.
Then a big break came in 1970 when he was invited to travel to New York City with the late Native American saxophonist Jim Pepper to record the chant classic Witchi-tai-to. Off he went.
Later, he would return to school to earn a Master’s degree in education, and was teaching high-school social studies in Portland, when another big opportunity was presented to him. The great Woody Shaw heard Tom playing at a weekend after-hours gig and promptly offered him a job with his band. Tom was on his way — as this experience soon led to more extensive work over the next few years with jazz greats such as Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Charles Lloyd, and Tony Williams.
In 1976, Tom recorded his first solo album, “Mystified,” and then in 1979 he formed his own band — The Tom Grant Band. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s they toured all over the US. Their travels were highlighted by appearances on CNN and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Since the release of his first album, Tom has become an incredibly prolific and wonderfully successful musician. He has released at least 25 albums of mostly “jazz-infused” instrumental (or vocal) music – each in his signature style – a style that has variously been called “New Adult Contemporary”, “Quiet Storm”, “Contemporary Jazz” and/or “Smooth Jazz.” In fact, Tom is often considered “The Father of Smooth Jazz.” And his music has broad appeal, crossing over easily between the genres of jazz, New Age, Pop, and Rhythm & Blues. Several of his albums, including the popular “Mango Tango,” “Night Charade,” “In My Wildest Dreams,” and “The View From Here,” have spent many weeks at number one. Over the years, he has also contributed many of his songs to compilation albums, especially those raising funds for charitable causes.
More recently, Tom — an official Yamaha artist — has focused on composing music for film and TV (primarily documentaries and independent films), and maintained a busy schedule performing throughout Oregon and Washington. He has also dedicated himself to numerous charity projects for the under-funded public schools in the Northwest, Potluck in the Park, a charity that feeds hungry people in the Portland area, and the Edwards Center for handicapped adults. In fact, the United Negro College Fund has established a scholarship in his name. Also, in 1999 Tom was given the Humanitarian Award for Dedication to Music, Health and Children by the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Cornell University Medical Center.
Tom’s most recent album, “The Light Inside My Dream,” moves his music in a decidedly more “New Age” direction with more obvious “relaxation, chill, healing and meditation” elements and much less pronounced jazz influences. Conceived and “gifted” as a love letter to his beloved wife, the music is at once charming, innovative, complex, sophisticated, stylish, relaxing, memorable, and always an easy listen. While existing fans of Tom’s more energetic and”jazzy” music may not find this “new” direction to their liking, we nevertheless consider the album an outstanding work. Exceptionally well produced, it marvelously reflects the style and quality of the contemporary instrumental music that we feature on GAIA Prime Radio.
As Tom says “I want my music to be more personal. The tunes I’m writing now are less raucous, more introspective. I’m sort of mellowing out.”
The opening track, “Anandi,” displays clear East Asian influences, and begins with a light acoustic guitar, followed by “ethereal” voices (humming) that gradually give way to a “chanting” repetition of the track title – “Anandi” – with occasional variations. With light piano accompaniment, a steady, repeating rhythm, a moderate tempo, and creative and catchy phrasing, the result is a very mellow, relaxing, and spiritual sound. This quite appropriately and effectively frames the album as having a different overall “vibe” than what one would expect to hear from Tom. It is also one of our favorite tracks on the album.
In contrast, “Tide Pools,” is a bit more down tempo and largely piano driven, with clearly more “smooth jazz” and “improvisational piano” influences, and with steady but light percussion (snare drums, cymbals), electronic accents, and occasional bass, as accompaniment. It is also a bit more reflective and emotive.
The title track, which is quite distinct from the first two, begins with a strong and attention getting keyboard “rotation-like” theme, which then forms the background for the entire track. Light percussive sounds, piano – again with some light “smooth jazz” elements — and occasional bass accompaniment — give this track a “haunting” and “dreamlike” quality that is quite engaging, and makes it another of our particular favorites.
One of the two best tracks on the album, “Star Whisperer” is similar to the title track in that it features a steady, pulsating, rhythmic “electronic sound” foundation that is carried throughout the track, along with innovative, light, and “smooth” piano riffs that masterfully play off of the foundation as a complement. It is also one of the more melodic tracks on the album with creative, strong and repeating phrasing that gives the track an air of solitude, isolation, and deep introspection.
Similar to the third and fourth tracks, “Solstice” features a steady, repeating, rhythmic foundation, but a foundation that is much more thoroughly integrated with the light, jazzy “electric piano”, occasional acoustic guitar, and bass elements that smoothly weave in and out as the lead voice. Very nice!
“The Source” is similar to the opening track, with strong East Asian influences, but with percussion as the primary voice, eventually accompanied by electric piano, synthesized sitar, and occasional ethereal chanting voices. The steady, pulsating, rhythmic qualities and up-tempo characteristics make the track almost dancelike.
“Breathing In The Love,” which is easily the strongest track on the album, is actually a longer and more fully developed version of a song that originally appeared on Tom’s 2010 album “Delicioso.” It is the fastest moving track, with a steady and catchy rhythm, light percussion, clever electronic accents, and a creative and memorable electric piano driven melody that displays obvious jazz, groove, and funk influences. It is also certainly the most complex track on the album, with masterful layering, and is a particularly strong finish to what we rate as an “exceptional” overall album.
With an album cover that features a gorgeous painting by Tom’s friend Mary Suzanne Garvey, “The Light Inside My Dream” is an album that we recommend without hesitation.